Take the world.
That’s the mnemonic device Yosef Tekle-Wold suggested for colleagues and friends who at first struggled a bit pronouncing his last name. Those who know him say those three words illustrate the future of a young man whose story is anything but ordinary.
“He has taught me so much through the example of his genuine and dedicated leadership,” said Stephanie Wilson, Ball State’s director of graduate recruitment and enrollment. “I believe his impact on our world is about to unfold.”
The journey from a small village in Ethiopia to receiving a master’s degree from the Center for Information and Communication Sciences on Saturday is about so much more than miles or geography. It’s about more than luck. It’s a grace Tekle-Wold, 26, struggles to explain but innately understands.
Because some things defy logic but require faith.
Hope for a different life
In Tekle-Wold’s village of Yetebon, breakfast is coffee and a root bread that resembles a hard, flat tortilla. Meat is for holiday meals. At night, it’s not uncommon for a family to have a meal of cabbage and, before farmers turn in for the night, bring their livestock into the home to protect the animals from predators.
Born in the middle of nine children, Tekle-Wold — by birth order and Ethiopian societal practice — traditionally shouldn’t have been the child to receive special attention within the family structure. School is ultra-competitive, because a student’s grades and exam results determine whether that young person will farm or get an education. Parents are reluctant to lose a child to school, because labor is desperately needed as families try to get by on what The World Bank estimates is $600 annually.
“It’s not uncommon for parents to hide a child’s books after school so the student can’t do his homework,” Tekle-Wold said, although that attitude is starting to change. “The parents need help in the field and don’t understand, or appreciate, the need to study. They don’t see the value of it.”
The inability to study all but guarantees a child won’t be accepted to university. And education, Tekle-Wold said, is the golden ticket.
“It’s the only way for Ethiopians to have a better life.”
A very unexpected path
So Tekle-Wold looks to his faith when he tries to explain the seemingly undefinable decision by his parents to let their then 5-year-old son be “adopted” by a woman who promised and delivered access to ample food, safe drinking water and — importantly — school.
“For a Muslim family to give their child to a Christian family and organization … The only explanation … I think it’s just from God.”
Tekle-Wold moved from his family’s home to the Project Mercy compound — a community that, while only a few miles from his village, more closely resembled Western living than anything found locally. He was, as he said, “adopted” by Marta Gabre-Tsadick, Ethiopia’s first female senator, and her husband, Demeke Tekle-Wold. The pair founded the Fort Wayne-based Project Mercy, a nonprofit Christian organization that works to bring education, economic development and infrastructure to rural Ethiopia, specifically Yosef’s village of Yetebon.
While he moved out of his birth parents’ home and took Demeke Tekle-Wold’s name, he considers himself part of both families.
Still that single act, his adoption, set Yosef Tekle-Wold’s future into motion. Because of Gabre-Tsadick’s ties to Indiana — she came to Fort Wayne as a refugee in the mid-1970s after a coup against then-Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie — her adopted son eventually arrived in the U.S. to study international business management at Taylor University.
After that, Ball State’s Center for Information and Communication Sciences program beckoned. Tekle-Wold was thinking big, and he needed help building his dream.
Traits of excellence
“Yosef is a cut above,” said Steve Jones, director of the center. “He is one of the brightest, nicest kids, and he is absolutely driven to succeed.”
The Graduate School’s Wilson said Tekle-Wold’s personability and natural leadership skills resonated with the 300 students in the groups he led during orientation. He was relatable, she said, because he wasn’t selling school — he was living it.
“He doesn’t waste a single opportunity,” Jones confirmed. “He doesn’t squander a thing. He brings a unique perspective to his work, and he believes failure is not an option.”
Trying something and failing would be forgivable, Tekle-Wold said. It’s the not trying that is inexcusable.
“If you change your life, you change the life of others,” he said, adding that he remembers well advice his adoptive mother often offered. “She said, ‘You need to have discipline in your life, you need to have purpose. And you should do everything diligently. If you clean the street, then do it to the best of your abilities. If you are a teacher, then be the best.’ ”
Tekle-Wold feels a responsibility to live up to his mom’s instructions, not only out of respect for her but also in recognition of the faith that others placed in him, including raising money for his schooling at Taylor.
That commitment is something friend Sarah Janssen has seen often in her grad school pal, and in a variety of ways.
“He brings a perspective on life and work that is unique to him and his experiences,” Janssen said. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet him … and to be able to watch him grow and learn, as I have, in my own graduate school experience. I look forward to seeing what new challenges he will tackle.”
Ball State widened his imagination
“Everything I do right now, I think about how it will affect my dreams and my ability to go home someday,” he said. “What if someday, for kids who are less fortunate, we can introduce a way for self-teaching? What if we take the education to the kids, rather than taking the kids to the education?”
Tekle-Wold said his willingness to imagine different ways to make the impossible possible is because of the education and encouragement he got at Ball State.
“Coming to Ball State put me out of my comfort zone. I wanted to experience that,” he said. “This has helped me to see the real world, and it’s been a time of self-discovery.
“Ball State is small enough that I made close friends and worked closely with my professors, but it’s big enough to offer amazing resources. I count our faculty in those resources.”
He plans to pay it forward by bringing opportunity to his family and country.
2017 Summer Commencement
More than 1,100 graduates will receive their degrees at Ball State’s July Commencement. The ceremony begins at 10 am, and tickets are not required for the event. Get more information.
“I think God put me in this position to take care of my village,” Tekle-Wold said. “In a perfect world, I want to create Internet access in my village in Ethiopia. If anyone has access to information, then anyone can learn, anyone can get an education.
“My legacy will be if I have the opportunity to help people, to empower others, and I want to do that in the best way I can, to be the best person I can be. That will be success.”